Puppy Possessiveness and Resource Guarding
Some puppies learn early in their development to guard the resources they receive, or their littermates might take them. They guard food, toys, treats, chewies and even affection by snarling, growling, and even biting. This guarding behavior often extends into their new homes.
The problem begins when these bullies enter a home with humans and especially those with young children. They must be taught impulse control and not to guard whatever they value. It is imperative to start this training while the puppy is young, if this behavior continues past adolescence it can be become extremely dangerous.
I remember hearing a story about resource guarding that still makes my hair stand on end.
On thanksgiving the grandmother of the family took the turkey out of the oven and put it on the counter to cool before dinner was to be served.
The family dog immediately came into the kitchen and began sniffing around and investigating the turkey. At some point he decided the turkey belonged to him.
Therefore, when the grandmother returned to retrieve the turkey for dinner, he attacked her. Her wounds were so significant that she had to go to the hospital for stitches.
The dog had always been a resource guarder, no one had ever tried to correct or deal with the problem they just left him alone when he was eating or playing with a toy. They didn’t realize that by ignoring the problem and letting him have everything he wanted they were exacerbating the problem and he was getting more and more aggressive. The grandmother probably never even saw it coming before it was too late, and I am sure the dog was appalled that grandma would DARE take HIS turkey!
It is vital to start this training with young puppies. Waiting until your puppy is older or working with an adult dog can be dangerous and will probably take a different
training style and method. Puppies 6 months and younger are slightly safer and a little less likely to bite and do damage; however if you feel you are at risk please do not do anything where you might incur a bite!!
NEVER involve young children with any dog or puppy that resource guards. This behavior should first be dealt with and controlled by adults. Children cannot read dog body language like adults can, and so often they get severely bitten, or even mauled. Never leave your children alone with a dog or puppy that is possessive or guards anything. Imagine a 2 year old chasing down and trying to take away her Barbie that the puppy has stolen…this could end very tragically when children and dogs are not monitored closely!
That being said, I like feeding my resource guarding puppies from my hands so that they associate food and all the good things in life coming directly from me. I will also hold their rawhides or chewies as they are chewing on them so I am close to them as they are chewing. This helps them to realize that I am not a threat and they get use to my presence while they chew. I will not allow them to take a toy, chewie, or treat and run into another room it eat it!
If they handle that well, I put my fist into their bowl and they have to eat around it. If the puppy is serious about resource guarding I do not recommend this there is no need to get bitten and there are easier ways of getting them to accept your presence in and around their food…even if it is a longer process.
If your puppy is not a resource guarder, I still recommend putting your fist in his bowl. Get use to handling him while he is eating, playing with a toy or chewing on something. This, again, is not for children. But I recommend that adults touch their puppies while they are doing all of these things. Get them use to hands in their faces and pushing them out of the way of their toys and treats. Touch their tails, near their eyes and their paws. DO NOT do this if your puppy growls, snarls, stiffens, or tries to bite.
If you have a puppy that growls, snarls, stiffens, gives you the evil eye, or tries to bite as you approach when he possesses something he wants, he needs to be taught that releasing his valued object is in his best interests and he will be rewarded for doing so!
I once heard a friend say taking something from your puppy all of the time makes him feel like YOU are the bully. He seemingly never gets anything good out of it.
If a bully on the playground ran up and hit another large child in the face and stole his cookie every day the second child may eventually get defensive and fight back. You would be able to see his body language change as the bully approached while he was eating. But, if that same bully ran up and instead offered the child a brownie or a sundae (something that had a higher value) chances are an exchange would happily take place.
We need to teach our puppies that a better exchange is about to take place, so that they will happily drop any item they might grab. To do this, at first I don’t recommend that they be eating or chewing on anything. They simply need to associate the command with good things and treats being tossed on the floor.
Again I must reiterate: at first I recommend they are not eating or chewing on anything.
Step 1: I walk up to a puppy (that is just sitting there laying down or chewing on nothing) and as I say “Drop It” I toss a handful of treats down on the floor just to the right or to the left of him. The toss should be just enough to get the puppy up off of his spot and make him move.
He will soon begin to associate the command “Drop It” with wonderful treats being tossed to the floor, instead of tensing up or stiffening because he thinks you are about to steal his toy or his treat or whatever he might have stolen.
When you can see that he now enjoys the command and is eagerly looking for tossed treats, it is time to move to step 2.
Step 2: is to wait until he is chewing on or playing with something he finds only slightly entertaining (nothing too exciting or yummy), walk up to him and say “Drop It” as you toss the treats to the left or right of him making him get up and walk over to them. It is crucial at this point DO NOT touch the toy or treat. Let him return to the item and continue playing or chewing if he so desires.
Step 3: is to do the same as in step 2 but this time walk over and touch his toy or treat. If he has good behavior and does not growl or act aggressive give him a jackpot. Do not pick up the item. But reward him for good behavior.
Step 4: is to do the same as step 3 but pick up the item, jackpot then immediately give it back to him.
Step 5: repeat step 4 but hold the item longer before its return. Jackpot for a happy response!
Now you can move on to higher value items, but work your way back up the list. Taking a toy away is not like asking for your dog to drop a pig’s ear! Ensure your dog’s success and your safety by making sure he is enjoying the training and you are using great rewards.
The final step if everything is going well, is to teach your dog to accept you taking something out of his mouth. Only move on to this step if you are seeing no aggression!
Go to your pup while he is not eating or chewing on anything, open his mouth and drop in some delectable treats as you say “Drop It”, now toss some treats to the
ground as in the previous steps and jackpot a good response.
Next step toward him and open his mouth (like you would imagine doing if he took something) and begin to desensitize him to you opening his mouth and darting
toward him. Drop treats into his mouth after you open it and praise him. Teach him that this behavior brings treats and rewards not fear and him losing his prize!
Soon if you work through the steps slowly and patiently with kindness and having fun, you will be able to take anything from him and he will enjoy it! When he hears “Drop It” he should happily spit out ANYTHING because he expects a wonderful treat in return! Once he has learned to respond correctly, make sure you continue to intermediately reward him for good behavior and you should be able to take anything from him for the rest of his life!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.